It is becoming abundantly clear that Robert Aaron Long, who confessed to murdering eight people (mostly Asian women) at three Georgia spas this week, was steeped in a version of conservative Christianity that critics have spent years describing as harmful.
We already knew a high school classmate described him as “big into religion,” that a neighbor said he came from “a good Christian family,” and the Crabapple First Baptist Church in Milton once celebrated his journey to baptism in a now-deleted Facebook post.
Now the Washington Post is reporting that, according to a former roommate, Long was a patient at an evangelical “sex addiction” clinic that also promoted gay conversion therapy. HopeQuest is about a mile from the first spa that Long targeted.
HopeQuest has ties to major evangelical institutions and has promoted “ex-gay therapy,” the idea that people can become heterosexual through counseling. Long, 21, who grew up in a conservative Southern Baptist church, was a patient at the treatment facility in 2019 and again in 2020, according to his former roommate Tyler Bayless.
The evangelical facility HopeQuest advertises its services for treating “sex addiction” and “pornography addiction,” alongside several descriptions for what it believes these addictions could include. Bayless said Long blamed his descent into addiction on pornography and used a flip phone instead of a smartphone to avoid temptation online.
“He was militant about it,” Bayless said. “This was the kind of guy who would hate himself for masturbating, would consider that a relapse.”
It’s not clear yet if his “addiction” was any different from what most people his age would be curious about or if being in that conservative Christian “purity culture” environment drove him to think there was something seriously wrong with his otherwise-normal desires. Reporting suggests he shot his victims because he wanted to eliminate temptations, as if women deserved punishment for his inability to control his urges. While other evangelical men haven’t resorted to murder, the victim-blaming mentality among evangelicals has been well-documented.
Earlier this week, a sheriff’s department official said that Long viewed the spas he allegedly targeted as “a temptation for him that he wanted to eliminate.” In evangelical literature, women are often treated as a sexual threat or seen as sexual fulfillment, said Rachel Joy Welcher, Iowa-based author of the book “Talking Back to Purity Culture.”
“They’re telling them not to lust, but the solution is to avoid women until they get married and channel all your sexual energy into your wife,” she said. “Wives are depicted as sexual outlets.”
It would be irresponsible to blame Long’s church for his actions. But the more we learn about him, the more it seems appropriate to blame the Christian culture he grew up in, one that has a twisted view of sex and treats everything outside of missionary-position-within-marriage as inappropriate, ungodly, or downright demonic.